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Published: Sunday, 4/17/2005

CD reviews: Ben Watt delivers up a classy collection of deep house tunes

Ben Watt, formerly of Everything But The Girl, tries to achieve something different on his second Buzzin Fly collection. Instead of songs mixed to create a mood or ambience, he wants dance music to say something.

Volume 2 looks back at New York City after 9/11 and gathers tracks he hopes create what he calls a journey of re-assessment and re-discovery. To help accomplish this, Watt bookends the disc with the spoken words of his own Williamsburg or Harlem, verse that taps into post-attack angst, and is read by Jennifer Valone.

Watt s reflections come late, of course. But he shouldn t be chided for that. Instead, he deserves credit for trying to give dance music some relevance outside the clubs, while at the same time crafting a superb mix that encompasses many moods.

The tracks look at love and at survival set to the beat of modern house. Volume 2 is packed with songs that can stand alone but find added impact from their context within the disc as a whole. The spoken Intro that segues into Jerk House Connection s New York Style, riding on a locked-in-the-groove house beat, sets the tone of reflective lyrics over hot rhythms.

And so it continues for most of the generous 15-track, 75-minute disc. Watt s own Lone Cat (Holding On) mixes rap with an electro-house groove; Sofian Rouge offers a mid-eastern air with El Wahrania; a Latin element is added on Rosa Nova by Hanna Hais, and there s more house on Unity s I Love You.

Watt s tale of love, crime, and endurance, Pop A Cap In Yo ... spoken by Estelle over another jacking house beat and soothing synths, is the disc s high point, dance music with some lyrical impact, telling a story.

And that s what sets this disc apart. It s not just that the track selection is nigh-on impeccable; or that the beat-mixing is spot-on; or that the blend of vocal and instrumental tracks keeps the attention of even the casual listener.

It s that Watt has tried to, as he puts it, get back to the meaning of house. Give it beats, of course. But also give it a lyrical momentum. Give it meaning.

RICHARD PATON

Zakk Wylde is one of the most renowned practitioners of heavy metal guitar, and with his own band Black Label Society and as Ozzy Osbourne s guitarist he has perfected his shred-heavy, virtuosic style. Mafia is a solid release that finds Wylde channeling Ozzy and Black Sabbath, along with Alice in Chains, a bit too much. Predictably, what elevates the disc is Wylde s guitar playing. A perfect example is Forever Down, which features a bludgeoning riff leavened by his dive bombing leads and fleet-fingered solos.

ROD LOCKWOOD

So Jay Geils of the J. Geils Band fame plays jazz, eh? Actually, he does, and pretty well at that. The guitarist captures the cool swing and smooth essence of the genre for a relaxing (surprise! considering the high octane of the J. Geils Band) and enjoyable set, augmented by guest appearances by Scott Hamilton on tenor sax and two former members of Roomful of Blues on sax, plus others. It s the first jazz album Geils has done on his own, and it s solid, if unspectacular. But it s obvious that Geils has a genuine affection for soft and traditional jazz.

TOM HENRY

Through the choice of tunes and the palpable emotion of their playing, you can feel the respect the surviving members of this group have for their late, longtime colleague Derek Bell. The classically trained master at harp, oboe, dulcimer, keyboards, and other instruments died unexpectedly in 2002. The Chieftains offer an incredibly diverse assortment of music on 16 knockout tracks, all rooted in traditional Celtic rhythms and sounds while embracing a global menu of contemporary influences. It is a true tribute in that it continues the legacy that Bell helped create.

KEN ROSENBAUM

PASSING THROUGH, Rig The Jig (Toucan Cove) Bright and modern, this album of 14 songs mixes the lively, traditional sounds of Ireland with more recent tunes. The talented musicians and vocalists dish up a wide assortment of musical morsels, drawing from American influences. Special treats are their versions of I Still Miss Someone and City Of New Orleans, both with a goodly dose of Irish accent. K.R.



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